Following the verdict of the Jerusalem District Court, I was very relieved that Ehud Olmert will not be behind bars, unless the “Holyland” trial determines otherwise. It would have reflected adversely on the State of Israel for a former prime minister to be incarcerated in addition to our former president.
However, there is a surrealistic tone to Olmert’s triumphalist responses and the arrogant predictions of his acolytes that he is now on the road to regaining the premiership.
Olmert was fortunate that the judgment declared insufficient evidence to show conclusively that he was aware of what transpired and thus unable to determine whether the cash he received was directed toward political campaign funds or personal benefit.
This in no way makes Olmert a martyr, or provides credence to the wild accusations that he was the object of conspiracies. Olmert himself called for investigations into “right-wing American Jews” who he alleges paid millions of dollars to bring about his downfall.
His supporters are also irresponsibly demanding the resignation of State Attorney Moshe Lador because the prosecution failed to convict him on all charges. Olmert’s friend and former editor of Maariv Amnon Dankner even called on him to “commit suicide.”
Olmert should come down to earth. Despite his denials, the judges were highly critical of the fact that he received huge bundles of cash and accumulated piles of money held in the safe of Uriel Messa, which were never reported. His personal assistant Shula Zaken was found guilty of criminal charges – fraud and breach of trust – despite the fact that Olmert was the sole beneficiary from her actions. After the trial, Zaken told the media that she had “taken one for the team and jumped on a grenade” in order to protect her former boss.
Olmert and much of the media also trivialized the court findings in which, for the first time, an Israeli prime minister was convicted of a breach of trust, a criminal offense. This is hardly inconsequential and may even deny him entry into the United States.
He is being encouraged by a number of disgruntled politicians, led by the discredited Chaim Ramon, to reenter the political arena. Some of his old cronies in Kadima would also welcome his return. Even some of Olmert’s former bitter political enemies from the far left enthusiastically supported him, as displayed by Avram Burg, who was seen embracing him in court immediately before the verdict.
Olmert himself proclaimed: “I will seek the premiership and take Yair Lapid with me” – obliging Lapid to issue an immediate denial.
Most Israelis are not fools and opinion polls show that the majority reject him, as they did well before the Talansky scandal. They have not forgotten that Olmert was the most disastrous prime minister to ever rule over Israel.
His record speaks for itself. Being a successful networker with an engaging personality, he was the consummate politician. After mending his fences with Menahem Begin for having initially opposed the peace treaty with Sadat, he built up support within Likud, was a successful health minister and was elected mayor of Jerusalem.
He subsequently found it expedient to move to the left and became one of Ariel Sharon’s strongest supporters in implementing the disastrous unilateral disengagement from Gaza. He became prime minister in 2006 following Sharon’s stroke.
His political zig-zagging was most evident when the former hawk made the notorious proclamation to the left-leaning US-based Israel Policy Forum in June 2005 that “we are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies.”
The 2006 Lebanon War was his undoing. After announcing that “the responsibility for the results of the war is wholly mine,” his own handpicked Winograd Commission produced a scathing condemnation of the conduct of the war. The report stated that it was guilty of a “major and grave missed opportunity” to inflict a major defeat of Hezbollah and restore Israel’s shattered deterrence.
It referred repeatedly to “failures” and “flaws” in the “decision-making procedures” and “strategic thinking and planning” which prevailed throughout the entire 34 days of the war.
In any normal democratic country, such an adverse report by an independent commission on a prime minister’s performance during a time of war would have automatically led to a resignation. Olmert refused and, making a mockery of public accountability, even had the chutzpa to claim that the findings exonerated and “lifted the moral stigma” from him.
However, desperate to regain status, he offered the Palestinians a deal that they could not resist, warning Israelis that if he failed, “the state of Israel is finished.”
At the Annapolis conference in October 2007, he groveled to the Palestinians, virtually adopting their narrative, even referring to “terrorism and incitement whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis,” implying that both parties were equally culpable.
Without Knesset or cabinet approval, he launched into closed-door negotiations with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and – ignoring the need for defensible borders and a security presence along the Jordan River – offered Palestinians 98.1 percent of the West Bank.
Despite public undertakings that he would not negotiate over Jerusalem, he offered to cede sovereignty of the Old City including the Temple Mount to an international trusteeship. He also offered to allow a number of Arab refugees to settle in Israel with no reference to restitution for the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries expelled in 1948. Abbas rejected his offer, although it is most unlikely that Israelis would have endorsed these concessions.
Yet since then the Palestinians insist that the benchmark for future negotiations with Israel be based on Olmert’s unauthorized offers.
When Olmert was indicted on charges of corruption, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Tzipi Livni turned against him, and to the relief of most Israelis, who had lost confidence in him even before these charges emerged, he was obliged to stand down.
Out of office, he launched into historical revisionism, claiming that had he remained prime minister, Israel would have consummated peace with the Palestinians and Syria! He globally campaigned against the government, holding it responsible for the breakdown in negotiations with the Palestinians, encouraging the Obama administration to intensify its pressure against Israel. Olmert aligned himself with the far left and even delivered the keynote annual address for J Street, considered anathema by the majority of American Jews.
For a former Israeli prime minister to behave in such an unconscionable and irresponsible manner is without precedent.
Presumably under legal advisement, after his initial triumphalist outbursts immediately following the court verdict, Olmert subsequently contradicted everything he had said, proclaiming that he had no intention of reentering politics. However, in light of his consistent record of breaching undertakings, little credence should be given to such remarks.
If Olmert had any sense he should thank his lucky stars he is not going to jail, pray that he overcomes the “Holyland” trial, adhere to his undertaking to keep out of politics and graciously retire.
The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com
He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org